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John Kirwan

John Kirwan

NationNew Zealand
BornAuckland, December 16 1964
Internationals96 caps between 1984 and 1994
InductedEngland v Italy (March 12, 2005)

The following article has been adapted from the original by Dai Llewellyn, which focused on two players. It has been changed to highlight only the selected inductee’s information.

John Kirwan, who scored 35 tries in 63 appearances for New Zealand, is nothing if not generous. The moment he learned of his induction to the Wall of Fame he started looking for ways to repay the honour.

On the face of it his solution sounds a trifle tongue in cheek. “I feel very humble,” said Kirwan, then head coach of Italy. “I think the only way to repay Twickenham for this would be to bring over an Italy side and beat England on their own patch.”

But the former All Black wing went on to explain: “That would be the biggest honour I could bestow on them. Because when that happens it will mean that the tournament is truly about six nations.”

Surprisingly, given the length of his international career (11 years between 1984 and 1994), Kirwan only appeared at Twickenham twice – a shame given the affection and respect in which he holds Billy Williams’ one-time cabbage patch.

“When I was a youngster we used to get up at 3am to watch the Five Nations and Twickenham was always special even then. What it has been turned into now, though, is even more special. It is a celebration of rugby – 75,000 capacity and it always fills up.”

The first time Kirwan played at Twickenham it was not quite the arena it is now. He had been selected to play for an Overseas Unions XV against a Five Nations selection as part of the International Board’s centenary celebrations in 1986. “In those days I think the most striking thing about Twickenham for a player was just how close the spectators were. They were almost sitting on top of the pitch.
Kirwan scored one of the Overseas team’s half-dozen tries as they ran out winners by 32 points to 13. “I think Grant Fox played a switch with me. Scoring at Twickenham was the fulfillment of a childhood dream.”

He then had to wait a further five years before treading the hallowed turf again. On that occasion he was playing for the All Blacks in the opening game of the 1991 Rugby World Cup: “a really big match.” New Zealand beat England 18-12, although Kirwan did not get on the score sheet.

As coach of Italy Kirwan visited the stadium in 2001 and recalls grimly the match when, with the help of a 32-point burst in 25 minutes, England ran out winners by 80 points to 23.

“That was my first year as coach and that game was a turning point for us. That was the start of a long journey. We want to win the Six Nations. That is our goal,” he said on induction. Hence his wish to pay back Twickenham for his elevation to the Wall of Fame.

Article by Dai Llewellyn


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